Elizabeth Iro has been revealed today as the World Health Organization’s new chief nursing officer following a campaign to boost nurse representation among the global body’s leadership.
Ms Iro, a registered nurse, is currently health secretary of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean, which has a population of around 15,000 people who are citizens of New Zealand.
“Nurses are central to achieving universal health coverage”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
In making the appointment, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has fulfilled a previous commitment to appoint a nurse to his senior leadership team, following a seven year absence of a CNO at the organisation.
“I am thrilled to welcome Ms Iro to our team as WHO’s chief nursing officer,” said Dr Tedros, who became director-general in May this year.
He said: “Nurses play a critical role not only in delivering healthcare to millions around the world, but also in transforming health policies, promoting health in communities, and supporting patients and families.
“Nurses are central to achieving universal health coverage and the [WHO’s] sustainable development goals. Ms Iro will keep that perspective front and centre at WHO,” he added.
“This appointment is a great boost for nursing”
The appointment is the latest addition to the senior leadership team that Dr Tedros began to announce last week and which includes representatives from every WHO region and is 60% female.
The move was welcomed by a new group being set up by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health to raise the international status and profile of nursing.
The Nursing Now! campaign, created in association with the International Council of Nurses and with backing from the UK’s royal colleges of nursing and midwives, had lobbied for the new WHO role.
It will formerly launch in January. However, in preparation, the campaign secured a commitment from Dr Tedros to appoint a senior nurse to the WHO, as reported by Nursing Times in August.
Lord Nigel Crisp, chair of Nursing Now! and a former NHS chief executive, said: “This appointment is a great boost for nursing and for everyone working to improve health across the world.
“Those of us who are optimistic about the future of global health know that we must recognise the value of nursing,” said Lord Crisp, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group.
WHO makes appointment to new chief nursing officer post
Source: Ministry of Health, Cook Islands
He added: “Following this important milestone, the Nursing Now! campaign looks forward to supporting both Dr Tedros and Mrs Iro to raise the status and profile of nursing.”
The ICN said the reinstatement of the role of WHO chief nurse was “important to ensure quality nursing care for all and sound health policies globally”.
ICN vice president Annette Kennedy said: “ICN congratulates Mrs Iro on her appointment to this key position.
“We are delighted that Dr Tedros has been true to his word and reinstated the role of chief nurse at WHO,” she said in a statement.
“ICN has met with Dr Tedros several times in the past few months to lobby for this position. He clearly recognises the value of nurses and has followed through on his promises,” she added.
The identity of the new chief nurse was revealed at the 68th session of the WHO’s regional committee for the Western Pacific, taking place from 9 to 13 October 2017 in Brisbane, Australia.
Ms Iro has more than 30 years of experience in public health in the Cook Islands, which comprises 15 islands, and regionally.
As secretary of health, she has been credited with implementing a series of health reforms to strengthen the Cook Island’s health system.
These include developing the country’s National Health Roadmap 2017-2036, the National Health Strategic Plan 2017-2021, and the Health Clinical Workforce Plan.
She had previously served as the country’s chief nursing officer and acting director of hospital health services.
Ms Iro has also served as president of the Cook Islands Nurses Association, a member of ICN.
For the first 25 years of her career, she was a staff nurse, midwife and charge midwife at hospitals in the both the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
Accepting her new WHO role, Ms Iro said, “I am very honoured and humbled with this announcement today.
“I think this appointment is going to be raising the profile of nursing and midwifery and I anticipate it will be encouraging and enabling for nurse to work to their full potential if countries are to achieve universal health coverage,” she said.